The name Baster is derived from the Dutch word for ‘bastard’ (or ‘crossbreed'). While some people consider this term pejorative, the Basters proudly use the term as an indication of their history in the same way as the Métis or "New People" of Canada.
The Basters were mainly persons of mixed descent who at one time would have been absorbed in the white community. It was, however, as much an economic and cultural category as a racial one and included the economically most advanced of the non-white population at the Cape. Among these were persons who acted as supervisors of other servants and were the confidential employees of their masters. Sometimes these were treated almost as members of the white family. The group also included Khoi, free blacks and persons of mixed descent who had succeeded in acquiring property and establishing themselves as farmers in their own right. The name Orlam was sometimes applied to persons who could also be known as Baster but was a more general name for Khoi and Coloured persons generally who spoke Dutch and practised a largely European way of life. In the early eighteenth century it was not uncommon for Basters to own farms in the colony, but with the growth of competition for land and colour prejudice they came under increasing pressure from their white neighbours and were either absorbed into the Coloured servant class or moved to the fringes of settlement where it was still possible to maintain themselves in independence. From about 1750 the Khamiesberg in the extreme north-west of the colony became the main area of settlement of independent Baster farmers, some of whom had substantial followings of servants and clients. After about 1780, increasing competition from whites in this area led to the migration of a number of Baster families to the middle valley of the Orange. The Basters of the middle Orange were subsequently persuaded by London Missionary Society missionaries to adopt the name Griqua. Heavily Calvinist, Basters sing hymns identical to those heard in seventeenth century Netherlands and the religious fervour of the Basters is clear from their motto: "Groei in Geloof" (Grow in faith). Known as "the last dregs of the Great Trek", most Basters see themselves as culturally white rather than black, speak Afrikaans, sport Dutch names and take pride in being considered more Dutch than the Dutch.
The Basters left their original home in the Cape Colony in 1868 to trek northwards in search of land and settled in Rehoboth (in what is now central Namibia). In 1872, the Basters founded the "Free Republic of Rehoboth", designed a German influenced national flag and produced a constitution that continues to govern the actions of the Baster to the current day. While they remain predominantly based around Rehoboth, some Basters continued to trek northward, settling in the southern Angolan city of Lubango, where they are known as the Ouivamo (many of these were forced to return to Namibia between 1928 and 1930 by white South Africans, who couldn't understand why their illiterate and deeply religious cousins wanted to live amongst the `savages’).
Following the German annexation of German South-West Africa, the Basters worked with the German colonialists and fought on the German side during the Herero Wars. As a result, they were able to keep their land and cattle while the Nama and the Herero were stripped of their rights and shipped off to concentration camps. The cooperation between the Basters and the German Empire ended on 8 May 1915 when Germany declared war on the Basters following the Basters' refusal to assist the German war effort in World War I. Considering themselves South African, the Basters offered to serve with the South African forces during the war but were rebuffed by General Louis Botha, who said that coloureds should not concern themselves with a war between South Africa and Germany.
Some Basters continue to push the legitimacy of the Free Republic of Rehoboth. It is claimed the republic was recognised by the League of Nations and that according to international law, the Republic should retain the status of a sovereign nation. In 1952, the Basters presented a petition to the United Nations to this effect, with no visible result. In 1979, South Africa offered the Basters self determination if they fought against South-West Africa People's Organisation, the Namibian independence movement. The Basters refused, deciding to remain neutral and settling instead for a semi-autonomous Baster homeland (known as “Baster Gebiet”) based around Rehoboth, similar to the South African bantustans. Baster Gebiet would exist until 29 July 1989 and the imminent independence of Namibia. Many Basters continue to seek autonomy for their political affairs. The Basters have a long democratic tradition of electing their leadership. According to the Paternal Laws of 1872, a Kaptein is elected for life. This Kaptein was granted the powers to appoint a Council and together they formed the Executive government of Rehoboth. The Paternal Laws also provided for a Peoples Council (Volksraad) which was elected every five years and formed the Legislative of the Rehoboth government.
The first Kaptain was Hermanus van Wyk, the 'Moses' of the Baster nation who led the community to Rehoboth from South Africa and remained Kaptein until his death in 1906. After his death, the Rehoboth Basters elected Cornelius van Wyk to be their Kaptein. He was however not officially recognised by the German colonial government nor by the South African authorities after their take-over in 1915.
In 1976, the South African government approved the ‘Rehoboth Self-government Act’ providing autonomy for the Basters. In 1979, Kaptein Johannes "Hans" Diergaardt was elected in accordance with the regulations of the 1976 Act. In 1999, John McNab was elected Kaptein. Since February 2007, the Rehoboth Basters are represented by the Kapteins Council at the UNPO.
While the current numbers of Basters remain unclear (figures between 20 000 and 40 000 are given), the Basters are concerned that their unique heritage will be lost in a modern Namibia.
In Indonesia, the people of mixed Dutch descent are also called Blaster(an).
`Coloureds' Fight to Speak Afrikaans ; Namibia's Baster Minority, Whose Ancestors Trekked from South Africa 130 Years Ago, Are Struggling to Save Their Identity
Jan 07, 2001; THE TINY town of Rehobot, 55 miles south of Namibia's capital Windhoek in a sea of semi-desert, feels about as far from the...